Briones: Senate investigation on the dengue vaccine

IT’S not a witch hunt.

It may seem like it to the viewing public, as they watch yet another drama unfold involving the government’s suspended dengue vaccine distribution program, but it’s not.

And that was what the chairman of the Senate blue ribbon committee assured former president Benigno Aquino III when the latter appeared before the august body last Thursday.

“… for the record, there’s no attempt for any vindictive investigation,” Sen. Richard Gordon told Aquino.

Yeah. Tell that to the marines.

But let’s give Gordon the benefit of the doubt. It is, after all, almost Christmas.

I will toss aside, for just a moment, any cynicism lurking in the marrow of my bones and I will look at the controversy with wide-eyed innocence. (I know I’m being redundant but I’m doing that for emphasis. So there.)

Oh, but who am I kidding?

I hate to admit it, since I never liked and continue not to like the former president, but he had a point last Thursday.

When he gave the P3.5-billion program his thumbs up, it was because dengue cases in the country were on the rise and spreading.

Data given to him in August 2010 reported that “the mosquito-borne disease was no longer seasonal and all four strains were already in the country.”

While in Paris in 2015 for a conference, Aquino found out that Sanofi Pasteur had a vaccine against dengue.

It was to his understanding, he told the committee, that “all the ‘local and international processes’ to test the drug’s safety and efficacy had been done.”

Aquino reminded the committee that at “no time before, during and after” the government introduced the program, did he hear anyone object to it.

All the current finger-pointers were all mum on the matter. In fact, they didn’t start crawling out of the woodwork until after the French pharmaceutical firm said that its vaccine could actually worsen the disease in some cases.

Of course, they’ve conveniently left out the drugmaker’s “positive” findings about Dengvaxia, that “it had not seen any evidence of increased incident of severe dengue in vaccinated individuals” or that “the long-term safety evaluation of Dengvaxia showed significantly fewer hospitalizations due to dengue in vaccinated people over nine years old compared with those who had not been vaccinated.”

That’s why this Senate committee should start allaying the fears of parents of children who have received the vaccine. It should remind them that none of the over 700,000 recipients have died because of the vaccine.

It should stop sowing a seed of doubt in the minds of the public that the government had an ulterior motive for introducing the program.

After all, the dengue vaccine has been approved in 19 countries and launched in 11.

So most sales have come from the Philippines. So what? Brazil, which has seen dengue cases increase threefold in some areas, also bought the vaccine, but you don’t hear its lawmakers grill health officials and put them on the defensive.
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